Nutrition for Endometriosis

Can what you eat help -- or hurt?

People with endometriosis live with symptoms like pelvic pain, heavy periods, and digestive issues. A few types of treatment, including hormone therapy, medications, or surgery, can bring relief. But what kind of difference can diet make?

No diet can cure endometriosis, and there are no foods that are guaranteed to ease your symptoms. The research on the links between diet and endometriosis are far from clear. But some science suggests what you eat can be part of helping you manage the condition.

What to Eat

The best eating plan for endometriosis is to follow the healthy diet advice that doctors recommend for most people:

Research suggests that some of the nutrients you get from eating this way could make a difference against endometriosis:

  • Fiber: It helps your body hold on to less estrogen, the hormone that regulates how the tissue of your uterus grows and drives endometriosis. You'll get fiber from eating plenty of vegetables and whole grains.

  • Omega-3s: Found in fish, walnuts, and flaxseed, these essential fatty acids may control endometriosis lesions and lower inflammation, which contributes to the condition.

  • Iron: When you lose a lot of blood during your period, you may lose too much iron. Include foods like chicken, beans, and dark, leafy greens to make sure your body has what it needs.

  • Antioxidants: These nutrients seem to protect your body's cells from damage caused by inflammation. Antioxidant-rich foods include berries; colorful produce like sweet potatoes, bell peppers, leafy greens, broccoli, and carrots; and nuts like walnuts and pecans.

Endometriosis, Inflammation, and Your Diet

In part, endometriosis is a disease of inflammation. In the short term, inflammation is a process that protects your body from injury or infection. But if it stays with you over time, it may harm healthy tissue.

Inflammation works to fuel diseases that use estrogen to thrive, like endometriosis. Researchers have seen this with other estrogen-dependent conditions like breast and endometrial cancer. They've also learned that what you eat could help tame inflammation.

An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on whole foods that haven't been processed and don't have a lot of sugar. Here are some anti-inflammatory foods you can try:

  • Green, leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, and collard greens)
  • Fruit (tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges)
  • Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines)
  • Nuts (almonds and walnuts)
  • Legumes (beans and lentils)
  • Olive oil
  • Low-fat dairy

Nutrients to Fight Inflammation

Foods to Avoid

Some foods can negatively impact people with endometriosis, or make people more likely to develop the condition. Be careful with:

It has higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which are linked with higher levels of estrogen and inflammation. Some research has shown that it increases the risk of endometriosis.

There's evidence that they fuel diseases that depend on estrogen, like endometriosis. Alcohol also boosts long-term inflammation.

They're loaded with salt, sugar, and trans and saturated fats. These ingredients can alter your gut's bacteria and lining and turn on genes that cause inflammation. Also, some research has shown that people who eat more trans fat are more likely to get endometriosis.

What About Dairy, Gluten, and Sugar?

You may have heard that these foods can make endometriosis symptoms worse. There's not much evidence to back that up, but there may be links between these foods and chronic inflammation:

Normally, sugar gives your cells energy. When you get too much of it, the extra sugar is stored in your fat cells. The result is weight gain and insulin resistance, which research finds is connected to inflammation.

In one study of about 200 people with endometriosis, 75% of them saw their symptoms improve when they cut out gluten. But we need more research to understand the connection.

Studies on dairy are mixed. Some show it eases inflammation, while others suggest the fat and antigens (substances that trigger an immune system response) in cow's milk cause ongoing inflammation.

How Do You Know What Helps?

You can't expect that eating or avoiding any one food will eliminate your endometriosis. But getting rid of certain foods from your diet could improve some symptoms like stomach pain, nausea, and cramping.

So how do you know which foods are making you feel bad? One way to find out is to try an elimination diet.

How to Do an Elimination Diet

Track your symptoms. Keep a journal where you record everything you eat and how it makes you feel. Do this before you begin the elimination diet.

Stop eating possible trigger foods. Cut out the things that seem to bother you for 2 weeks. Plan out your meals so your kitchen will be stocked with substitutes.

Slowly bring foods back into your diet. One by one, over the next month, start eating the foods you cut out. Ease into it with small portions, then work your way up to larger ones.

Note how you feel. This will help you spot foods that seem to cause you problems. Keep an eye on portions, too. You may find that some foods are OK in moderation.